Isaac Kfir, Advisory Board, International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law and Adjunct Professor, Charles Sturt University
The extreme far right is a cacophonous, diverse network, composed of many groups and individuals, all of whom want and demand drastic changes to contemporary society, which they see as damaged by political correctness and identity politics.
A recent strand of the extreme far right is neoreactionism (NRx), driven, at least in part, by Silicon Valley technologists. NRx eschews the post-Second World War liberal economic order in favor of an imagined past in which “men can be men” with society being ruled by strong men.
The NRx network draws in the alt-right, accelerationists, and digital libertarians. Many members are tech-savvy futurists who reject traditional, mainstream political ideology because — as the historian of America’s digital industries Fred Turner points out — they believe in technology and how it can change humanity.
Origins and Roots
The roots of the NRx network lie in 2007 with the writings of Curtis Yarvin — a software engineer who blogged under the name Mencius Moldbug. In his ‘formalist manifesto’, which drew heavily on the writing of the Victorian essayist Thomas Carlyle who saw world history as a product of the achievements of Great Men, Yarvin claimed that democracy is bunk.
NRx gathered momentum once the name changed from “formalism” to neoreactionism. In 2010, the libertarian blogger Arnold Kling referred to Yarvin as a neoreactionary. Yarvin’s ideas resonated with people such as British philosopher Nick Land, who adopted NRx language and ideas and gave it a pretence of intellectualism by drawing upon selective readings of political philosophy and critical theory.
In Yarvin’s manifesto, with its amorphous, pseudo-intellectual ideas, he pairs ten red pills (beliefs) with ten blue pills. The blue pill represents the orthodox democratic perspective, while the red one represents the neoreactionary view. The exercise aims to provide an indictment of democracy and, by extension, contemporary capitalism.
Through the works of Land, Patri Friedman, and others, Yarvin’s ideas galvanized a new cohort of right-wing extremists who rejected democracy and capitalism in favor of “gov-corp” — essentially a modern iteration of the medieval city-state whose inhabitants could choose to exit (the “right of exit” is core in Land’s ideas, as it allows for unfettered movement in search of a better reality or polity) if the city’s leader was not meeting their expectations (in the neoreactionist context, those living in the gov-corp are consumers and if they become dissatisfied with the management they are free to exit and find a new home).
The allure of NRx to the neophyte network of alt-righters was that it allowed them to critique the democratic system and capitalism without using the obvious antisemitic tropes, as the racialist aspect is more subtle. German-American billionaire entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and co-founder of PayPal Peter Thiel, who seems interested in elements of NRx, has claimed that freedom and democracy are incompatible as the latter limits freedom of choice, leading him and other Silicon Valley technologists to promote techno-commercialism as an alternative to the current political-economic system.
His ideas resonated with those that believed that the liberal political order had failed. Political philosopher Patrick Deneen, for example, turned de Tocqueville on his head, claiming that the liberal experiment had failed because it had not delivered on its promise of overthrowing inequalities. Instead, Deneen argued that liberalism had institutionalized plutocracy, mediocrity, and banality. To reverse this trend, Deneen asserted that society must return to localism and community.
The NRx network identifies the contemporary nation-state — driven by democratic ideals and post-war liberal economics — as the problem. They see the contemporary political and economic system as limiting freedom, opportunities, and the cause for racial degeneration. Some, as a way to get around the current international state system and the dominance of liberal democracy, advocate for the creation of authoritarian seasteads — a type of futuristic city-corporation polity governed by a CEO or a monarch (initially these cities were meant to exist in the oceans highlighting their deterritorialization and allure to such technologists as Thiel).
A Rejection of the Elite
An important feature of NRx is its hostility towards “the cathedral” — a structural system composed of universities, the media, and bureaucracies that, in their view, sustains a corrupt ruling elite that promotes quasi-democratic values such as equality and meritocracy that neoreactionists see as antithetical to the natural order, leading them to hark back to the pre-modern age when such ideas did not exist, as society existed according to the natural order, understood through Darwin’s natural selection formula.
When it comes to economics, the neoreactionist network has an imagined view of economic nationalism typified by a limited and selective understanding of mercantilism and cameralism. Mercantilism, as conceived between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries, called for a nation led by a strong leader to expand trade — even if it meant war. It was a form of economic nationalism based on precious metals (not on banks and credit) and competitive trade was seen as a zero-sum game — not a positive-sum game. Cameralism, often referred to as neocameralism, feeds their need for a strong leader that governs the state (gov-corp) as a CEO-King would, using the resources of the state to maximize trade.
Racialism is a Key Feature
Racialism remains a key feature of NRx — mainly through Land’s concept of a fit-to-rule tech-savvy elite. In other words, Land does not use typical racist language, opting instead to speak of socioeconomics and genetics as suggested by Victorian eugenics to defend the right to rule by strong, intellectually superior men.
There is an interesting paradox within the NRx ideology. On the one hand, it rejects modernity by harking back to a romanticized, idealized, rural and pastoral time when “men could be men”. However, on the other hand, neoreactionists also look to new technologies to help end the tyranny of contemporary politics (seen as identity politics and diversity) as they look to set up their futurist gov-corp.
Emerging out of NRx is accelerationism — a violent strand of NRx whose adherents want chaos and political tension in order to bring forth a revolution that would end the current political system and restore the world to its pre-humanist, pre-democratic and pre-political correctness era.
The danger of NRx is that it draws on technology, fiction, and dissonance to appeal to an audience dissatisfied with the current political-economic-social system and in search of a solution. Through blogs and chat rooms, the network is quickly expanding — resonating with more disgruntled individuals looking to explain their discontentment. Their language is careful — shrouded in pseudo-intellectualism and selective readings of political philosophy that resonates with disconnected tech-savvy, educated individuals who look at contemporary society and see that the promises of equality have, in their view, created more inequality.
The idealized narrative offered by NRx and the Dark Enlightenment resonates with these disgruntled individuals because it romanticizes the past, while opening the future up to possibility. Ignoring this strand of extremism is dangerous as Silicon Valley wields enormous power in contemporary society, which is why there is an important need to explore ways to counter its appeal.
European Eye on Radicalization aims to publish a diversity of perspectives and as such does not endorse the opinions expressed by contributors. The views expressed in this article represent the author alone.